Michael Reeser says the next Tesla factory training center could be built in Harlingen. The chancellor and CEO of Texas State Technical College spoke about the possibilities of the Rio Grande Valley being attractive to Tesla at a recent breakfast event held at TSTC in Harlingen. “Tesla is growing like weed in Texas. They are selling more and more units all the time. And we are beginning to rival California and Florida in terms of Tesla automobiles,” Reeser explained. “So, Tesla, about two years ago, came to Texas and started looking around because they needed a higher ed partner to set up their factory training centers for their technicians. And what they needed was a host with a robust automotive offering who could see the long-term vision of electric vehicles in our industry.”
Reeser said that after interviewing countless colleges across the state, Tesla picked TSTC to be their education partner in the state of Texas. “So, their very first factory training center was in Waco. They picked it because it is centrally located. The second one is in Houston. It is under construction right now and it will be finished in January,” Reeser said. “And, I predict and we have talked to them about it, your next one needs to be in Harlingen, where we already have a robust automotive program. So, the point is, Tesla looked at everyone and they picked us up.” The tie-up with Tesla is just one of the cutting edge partnerships TSTC has developed. Reeser also mentioned the FAME program run by the National Association of Manufacturing and NIMS, otherwise known as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. “The National Association of Manufacturing and their training arm NIMS was in Texas this week and what they were doing was exactly the same thing (as Tesla). (They said) We want to expand our FAME program. They came to us and they said, we have done our homework and we picked you to be our FAME preferred provider,” Reeser said. FAME stands for Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education.
“So, TSTC will be the host as we start propagating the FAME system across the state, which will allow, for example, what we do here… the RGV will have advanced manufacturing that is nationally recognized and ranked.” Reeser mentioned another key partnership TSTC has – with Texas A&M University. “You have heard some press about this. The Texas A&M partnership. We joined together with Texas A&M a couple of years ago. They picked us and John Sharp said to me, Mike, I have done my homework, we know who the best is and we picked you to be our partner in workforce development,” Reeser said. John Sharp is chancellor of Texas A&M University System. Reeser acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the impact of the TSTC-Texas A&M partnership. But, he said, TSTC stands ready to ramp it up. “We have everything poised and are ready to jump on that.”
The breakfast event drew economic development, chamber of commerce, and workforce development leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley. One VIP in the audience was Fred Farias, chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Reeser said Farias mentioned that he knew about the tie-up TSTC has with Texas A&M before the event started. “If you were to go over to our welding lab right now you would find engineering students from Texas A&M College Station, their premier engineering school, which, by the way, is globally ranked in the Top Ten across the world,” Reeser said. “You would find engineering Aggies in our welding lab and you would find them in Waco. You would find them in east Texas, and you find them in west Texas. And the reason is, we joined together in a partnership because what A&M knew is their engineers were outstanding at design, calculus, the art of engineering, but what they did not have was a bunch of hands-on experience in the area of actually fabricating, putting designs together.” Reeser explained what this partnership has led to. “We have prototyped a brand new hands-on partnership with Texas A&M and they think that the outcome of their engineers is going to rise significantly. And based on my interaction with those Aggies so far, those students see it too,” Reeser said. “Who would have thought that a premier engineering school would send their kids to a two-year college? Well, the reason they do it is they acknowledge that our hands-on training is not the sort of thing that they do. But that is our sole business. And they decided, why should we reinvent the wheel, we’ll just contract with the best.” Tesla, the National Association of Manufacturing, and Texas A&M. Three examples, Reeser said, of the innovative partnerships TSTC has developed. “Those are three examples of how TSTC as a statewide agency, is laser focused on student success, doing training solely in areas that yield great jobs.” He said TSTC is the only statewide two-year school that “leverages all of those unique characteristics to be a special resource for the regions we serve.” Reeser added: “You knew of us but you did not know a bunch of the details.”
Earlier in his remarks, Reeser plucked statistics from what he called a “brag sheet.” He pointed out that while huge two-year community colleges such as Lone Star, Houston, and Dallas, that have anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 students do not teach as much technology as the much smaller TSTC does. “So out of those 80,000 students that they may have, they are teaching a tiny fraction of their students technology. And what that means is, we are the biggest. Across the state. We teach more technology than anybody else,” said Reeser, proudly. Reeser also pointed to Skills USA, an intercollegiate competition which, he said, was like a technical Olympics. “It (Skills USA) starts in high school, goes through college, it is a global deal,” Reeser said. “For the past four years TSTC has gone to the state level of Skills USA in Texas and during that timeframe TSTC students have won more Skills USA medals than the rest of the two-year schools in Texas combined. That is the quality we teach.” The same goes for the national Skills USA competition, Reeser said.
“It is just like the Olympics, gold, silver, bronze. We have more national winners than the rest of the Texas schools combined. So, from the standpoint of biggest, we teach more, (and we are) best in head-to-head competitions with other colleges. We demonstrate our quality using third-party validation in Skills USA.” Another example of the esteem in which TSTC is held, Reeser said, is the rankings it receives from the Aspen Institute. “Being an Aspen 150 means that of the thousands of two-year schools in the country you have been selected by the Aspen Institute as one of the 150 best schools in the nation,” Reeser said. Reeser urged the VIPs in the audience to reach out to TSTC and utilize its expertise. “So what you community and regional leaders have in TSTC is a school that rounds out the higher ed array that you have in the Valley. You have an outstanding university, you have outstanding community colleges, and you have a technical school that is nationally considered not just a thought leader but an innovative, higher ed institution. And one that stands ready to help y’all in any way that you need.”